The Copernican Question

In 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) ( publicly defended the hypothesis that the Earth is a planet and the sun a body resting near the centre of a finite universe. Copernicus’s reordering of the universe mattered because it was the first in a string of new and daring scientific claims at odds with traditional representations of the heavens. These well-known achievements included, among others, Tycho Brahe’s great observation project to remap the stars’ positions, Johannes Kepler’s planetary rules (later generalized into laws), Giordano Bruno’s conception of an infinite number of suns and planets in an infinite, homogeneous space, Galileo Galilei’s mathematical analysis of falling bodies and telescopic discoveries, René Descartes’s corpuscular philosophy of nature and Isaac Newton’s stunning unification of natural philosophy that reduced all motion to a few physical laws.

The intellectual revolution achieved in these moves cannot be over-estimated. From a belief where humans were centre stage of everything, it became possible in time to see humans as one of a myriad transient species on an insignificant rock in a solar system among billions of others. Robert S. Westman’s  ( particular thesis is to show that efforts to answer the astrological skeptics became a crucial unifying theme of the early modern scientific movement. His interpretation of this ‘long sixteenth century’, from the 1490s to the 1610s, offers a new framework for understanding the great transformations in natural philosophy in the century that followed.

This magnificent volume, which can be dipped into with pleasure, deserves its place on your shelves.

Check if this book on the history of science is in stock at your local library by consulting the online catalogue at
720 pages in University of California Press

First published 2011

ISBN  978-0520254817

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Professor Robert S. Westman

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